What is NASA?
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA, is the government agency responsible for the science and technology of air and space. In more simplistic terms, they make it possible to send astronauts into outer space. Exposing students to NASA is important for a variety of reasons including developing an understanding of the uniqueness of each planet and to help create a deeper understanding of space. As NASA’s slogan states, “We make air and space available for everyone!” The three goals of NASA are to improve life on Earth, help protect the Earth, and contribute to keeping the United States at the head of the science and technology game.
Activities to Bring NASA in the Classroom
Since you cannot take your class on a trip to outer space, well, bring it to your class! Incorporating NASA into the classroom can lead to new learning, a bit of fun, and maybe even spark the interest of a future space explorer! The NASA website is impressive and user friendly for students and teachers alike. Here are various ways to incorporate NASA into your classroom.
There is an entire page dedicated to STEM engagement for students on the NASA site. It is well organized and easy to navigate. There are activities for any grade level and also at-home options (very important for education currently). STEM is such a focus in education right now, and NASA makes it so easy to incorporate into a lesson (or two)!
For example, a grade K-4 activity that is offered is to “Build Your Own Mars Helicopter”. There is an overview of the activity and step-by-step directions on how to complete this. It brings a hands-on approach to learning and has materials simple enough to have the whole class complete it. If you aren’t happy with the results of your design, don’t worry, just make some improvements and try it again!
For grades 5-8 and 9-12 there is an activity called “Design a Crew Module” where an instructional video is included, as well as an overview of the challenge and a data sheet for the drop tests. Students will build a module for the two-man crew to navigate in space.There are multiple design constraints listed, so this can be modified for grade levels as well as individual students’ needs.
These are just two examples of the many different STEM activities that NASA has ready to go for teachers to incorporate into their classrooms. Each activity has multiple resources available to support learning. One key benefit to these resources is that it is convenient to use for in-person, hybrid, or virtual instruction, while still giving students the benefit of a hands-on engineering activity.
Another way to incorporate NASA into the classroom is by viewing the NASA events. If you are on the main page, there is a little update reel on the right hand side. You can click on events that will stream live onto the site and you can bring them right to your classroom. There are multiple different videos available throughout each week. This is great for distance learning or in the classroom. It also is an excellent extension for the students that are interested in exploring various topics in more depth. Another nice feature is that you can view the videos even if you can’t watch them live at the time they air!
This can be a cross-curricular activity as well since it pulls in various other subjects such as social studies with the current event aspect and ELA with the various speaking, reading, and listening standards. Incorporating multiple standards into lessons is a great way to extend learning and can make for more comprehensive units that can be used in all subject areas and increase student achievement overall.
Teachers can request NASA speakers for the classroom. The speakers partake in virtual speaking engagements through a volunteer program. Guest speakers are a great way to incorporate real-life into the classroom and can peak the interest of students. A guest speaker does not have to be supplied by NASA, but can be anyone that will bring more value to NASA and what it has to offer. This can be inspiring for students that may be thinking about a potential career in NASA.
You can create WebQuests or STEMQuests in order to have the students explore the NASA website. As I mentioned before, there is so much information/resources available on the site. You can create a document for students to complete while searching the site. The document can be simple or more complex depending on the grade level you wish to reach.
The attached STEMQuest is an example of what you could use for a grade 4-5 activity. It has students explore various different games, videos, and activities on the site and has students discuss new learning. This also incorporates the launch of the SpaceX Dragon and leaves room for great class discussions. Students can work in groups on this or individually. Breakout rooms work as well for this type of activity and promote collaboration between students.
The NASA site offers many educational opportunities for students to explore using games. So many students have an interest in video games and this is the perfect opportunity to capitalize on student interest. One game, Explore Mars, has students operate a rover on Mars and collect data on a space expedition. Another game, Play Helios, is about how the sun makes energy. These games allow students to explore at their own pace and learn about all different parts of the solar system. The games force students to use critical-thinking skills and to think outside the box.
Three, two, one, blast-off! NASA has so much to offer to students to supplement learning in various areas of education, and it is not limited to just science class. NASA makes it fun to integrate various subject areas and learn about some pretty cool stuff along the way as there is so much to learn about our solar system and beyond. As Carl Sagan stated, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known,”, and NASA has so much to offer to help quench students’ thirst for knowledge.